Categories
Essay

What Gandhi Teaches Me

By Candice Louisa Daquin

Generally, a Westerner shouldn’t try to dabble in writing about Indian great men because it’s that kind of appropriate-ism that caused so much misunderstanding and damage to begin with. The idea the West had all the answers, which clearly it does not. The idea someone whose country used to be a colonialist-force, had the right anymore to discuss countries that were colonized, can smack deeply of appropriate-ism or worse.  However, there are also ways we can appreciate what we know and transmit that without being patronizing or culturally insensitive.

I choose to consider Gandhi and his impact on the world, to remain in the middle ground. Neither applauding Gandhi without reservation, nor ignoring his incredible impact and influence on India and beyond. I don’t always do this, in the case of someone like Woody Allen or Charles Bukowski (hardly comparable) I cut them off immediately because despite being talented, their talent simply doesn’t measure against the harm they caused. With someone like Friedrich Nietzsche I would say, he has some brilliant perspectives, but his over-all views were too harmful for me to support him. Revisionist thinking is necessary, but sometimes like anything else, it can go too far and condemn significant people based on modern thinking that doesn’t take into account the mores of the time.

One of the hardest things in the world is when your heroes appear to fall. But in this case, there is so much positive about Gandhi I believe (and this is a personal belief), that his goodness encourages us to retain his relevance and enduring impact.

Firstly, Satyagraha – belief in using truth to resist evils with non-violence. Not the same as simply ‘truth’ or ‘verité’ as I would say in French. But more the ideal of believing in truth rather than being deceived or unable to believe. This is not just valuing truth, but believing in truth and thus, through that belief, knowing what is true (and reasonably, what is not).

I find this very interesting because whilst we all ‘think’ we know truth, obviously most of us do not. When does opinion and truth come together? Really holding an opinion has nothing to do with truth but with multiple versions of truth, how do we ever know which one is right? This is a discussion I have had many times in my life with friends of differing views. For a time, I wanted to be a Christian because I needed to believe in something and so many whom I knew were Christian would try to persuade me that was the ‘right’ (true) path. I was not convinced, despite my own attempts to be and it did not strike me as ‘truthful’ or ‘the truth.’ But the question is if people ‘doubt’ another’s truth then where does that end up?

I think of what Gandhi might have said; that truth is beyond conjecture, difference and trying to be ‘right’ the truth is there all along, it is immutable, transformative and fluid at the same time. And by truth he is not speaking purely of a particular faith, or a particular creed, but a universal truth. That is pretty esoteric for Westerners, I think overall Western thinking is prescribed, it feels comfortable having absolutes to follow and only demurs when it’s considered socially ‘trendy’ to disagree. While there may appear to be diverse thinking in the West, I would say it’s no more diverse than closed societies like China, the propaganda is just less obvious. After all, it’s not a societal dictate that has people unquestioning, it’s the mandate of the individual which links with the concept of  Swaraj – self-rule which ultimately led to home rule, the idea that led to an independent India.

If I think of his ideals today, how many of us believe in truth by considering how this lies within us and then without us. Isn’t it more common for us to be spoon fed a ‘truism’ from our respective societies, and even if we question that truth, we do so with groupthink, subscribing to a ‘truth’ without considering what believing in truth means in relation to ultimate truth? Thus, without individual self-policing (or by proxy, the questioning of something outside ourselves) and perhaps by being so busy, we take the easy road because to question everything can be an exhausting enterprise, and as Marx would say, we’re distracted by how busy we are in the machine of work. Leading to at times, mass delusion, or mass indifference, but definitely not an understanding or questioning of how to cultivate a belief in truth.

In fact, how important is truth to us? We bandy around the words, paying lip service to the idea, but without going further to consider the idea at a more personal and then social level. Truly believing in truth would be almost like letting go of everything and beginning over (as one could say Gandhi did) and as you rebuild, doing so with belief in truth in a pure sense of the word. I believe in truth and therefore reject attempts of subterfuge in favour of increasing my belief in the existence of truth. In many ways this is like believing in God without it becoming all about the details (scripture, deity, icons etc). It seems to have a lot in common with the pure heart of Buddhism too,

This leads to another principal of Gandhi’s — simplicity. Simplicity of an idea clears the clutter to reach at the truth. That simple. Practice simplicity and you will see more clearly. How many of us truly practice simplicity? I may try, but I fail, as most of us do, with this increasingly complicated pull and push of modern society, where I might rail against absurdities because I’ve been sucked into thinking they matter. Maybe some of us don’t have the luxury of opting out and going back to basics, maybe our lives are too interwoven with an unnecessarily complicated society that ‘demands’ we brush our hair, shine our shoes, iron our clothes, wipe our faces and face the world a certain way.

The perennial question has always been: is this the only way to live? And as we lose more and more of our simplicity, we may no longer care about other options, in favour of following the status quo. Furthermore, we may believe a complicated life with stress and demands, is the only way we can live, the only way things can work. I would think Gandhi could see, by giving things up, you gain more than by taking on more, and whilst his message may seem inapplicable to many, we can all learn something by doing less, wanting less, needing less.

After all, we cannot take what we accumulate with us, so the ideals of physical wealth seem less important than spiritual health. Many of us may brag about the car we drive, the house or neighborhood we live in, where our kids go to school or university, what they do for a living and so it goes on. Even in India, this is true, as the upper and middle classes seek to emulate what they have seen dominate the rest of the world and define themselves by those status markers that mean so much (and conversely, may mean so little). It is easy to get caught up in it.

I was never an acolyte of the materialistic world, but like most people, I had my insecurities and wanted to jump through  few hoops that I felt defined you as a success in society. When I became sick, it really showed me in a shocking way, how little those things mattered. I recall one day in hospital, my hair matted from throwing up, I just reached for my ponytail and cut half of it off. I had always been vain of my hair as it was thick and long and yet, it felt absurd to hold onto something for vanities sake when I was so sick and bereft of any normalcy. Likewise, when I went out into the common area of the hospital, I saw people sicker than me, and as we talked, I saw they were friendly irrespective of my not wearing make-up, or shoes (!) and in a gown with a green face. They saw ‘me’ and it felt like being a child again, liked for being ‘me’ instead of the ‘me’ I had become used to showing the world which was a counterfeit version. This principle then applies also to the notion of truth, and self-policing. Without an inflexible doctrine like religions, Gandhi’s philosophy was free to consider the whole rather than the individual steps toward being whole.

9/11 has just passed here in America my adopted country, and at its 20-year anniversary there has been much made of our withdrawal from Afghanistan, the country America invaded after 9/11 for sheltering the terrorists who were involved in the murder of so many people. Whether you are a Democrat, or Republican, many Americans believed someone had to pay for the atrocities committed on American soil. I recall at the time understanding both perspectives: the felt need for revenge or justice, and also, the need to lean towards understanding the how and the why of the incident to prevent it from recurring again.

When America withdrew from its longest and unsuccessful war against the Taliban, only to find the Taliban and Isis took over Afghanistan as if America had never been there, it did strike many as being a truly futile war (and we can argue, all wars are futile to some degree). How blatant was the takeover of a country America had wrongly thought was tamed from its former ‘enemies’.  Over time, it had just felt a lot like other wars (Vietnam etc.) where so much death, destruction and expense wrought no change, certainly not as Americans had visualised. Furthermore, did the taxpayer really want to leave behind US$ 2.26 trillion of their hard-earned money to equip Afghanistan? Yet that is exactly what happened along with the providing a free access to the very latest technology in the abandoned US embassy.

Why doesn’t America learn this lesson? That going to war doesn’t really change the ideology of an invaded country, that small bandit terror cells continue to thrive and even increase, because the promotion of American ideals isn’t always universal or accepted, and promoting them whilst invading a country, breeds as much resentment as it does thankfulness. By this I am not suggesting everything America did was negative, they truly tried to help the Afghani people, but at what cost? And did it work? I would say it did not. That’s perhaps because it is not the role of any one nation to police another or dictate to another.

But what do you do if you are a military person, and your country is attacked? It’s hard to imagine sitting there and debating how to have a non-violent discussion with the enemy. Yet that is exactly what Gandhi is most famous for. Satyagraha may seem a very outdated term, or it may appeal as a modern notion, either way it’s so laden with symbolism we hardly understand its core anymore. On the one hand, there is the Old-Testament idea of ‘an eye for an eye’ and then as Gandhi followed ‘An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind’.

Personally, I find truth in both, maybe truth can have a duality or not be as black and white as we often want it to be, but either way, non-violence is erasing the option for any kind of vengeance or payback, not an easy thing to accomplish when your enemy is being deeply unfair, as was the case with Gandhi watching the treatment of Indians in South Africa and then again with the colonial invading forces of the British in India. Gandhi founded the Natal Indian Congress in 1894, where he campaigned for the rights of indentured labourers in South Africa and protested against the system of requiring passes for Indians. Gandhi went on to organise the local Indian community, of all income brackets, into a passive resistance against this inequality. With these early eye-openers, Gandhi began his first experiences of community building into protest, utilizing peaceful means, against entrenched inequality and racism.

But every situation is different and 9/11 did not happen out of the blue, it came about as a result of decades of fighting between Christian and Muslim extremists on both sides. It also came about because the West wanted the Muslim world to accept some things, they found unacceptable. When asked why he caused the 9/11 attacks, Osama Bin Laden said because Saudi Arabia, his homeland, was in bed with America in going after Saddam Husain and others in Iraq. Why did he find this so offensive? In part because he didn’t like American military in his country, especially women soldiers. His brand of extremist Islam did not believe women equal to men and found that an abomination.

What is ironic about this extremist thinking, which can be found in all faiths, is how hypocritical those who believe it seem to be. All the terrorists who came to America to attack on 9/11 visited brothels and took full advantage of the Western ‘evils’ they preached against. They would argue that they had no respect for those people because they were ‘evil’ – in essence justifying their behavior based on a greater sin. But who are we to dictate who is more ‘sinful’ than another, and surely, if we believe in truth, we don’t break it when tempted by the very thing we condemn? Going back to Gandhi’s ideal of belief in truth, one who does, would not be hypocritical.

Yet so many humans are. Some people who condemn homosexuals have secretly practiced homosexuality. People who condemn women might be profiting from their exploitation. Those kinds of hypocrites negate the truth of their original argument. If we simplify the argument, we have no legs to stand on. Oppression of others goes against all religions but is practiced by all religions. I think Gandhi saw this palpably and was trying to redirect us to see how absurd this was. And what greater way than to practice non-violence against a violent oppressor? It literally was an act of faith, and incorporated belief in truth, and political self-policing. Is this not the ultimate reality? ‘Ahimsa’ isn’t just ‘non-violence’ because no one principle exists in isolation from ‘other’ in this case, love. Without love there is no mercy, there is no wish for non-violence. It is the connection between the intension and the outcome that produces Gandhi’s ‘Ahimsa’ (non-violence).

If all life is one, then all violence perpetrated against self or other is experienced as a whole, the welfare of human beings at the core. The very opposite of the competitive consumerism of Capitalism, which America is known for. And with this, Gandhi predicted the future, a practical need to eat less meat, (vegetarianism) or to respect life (by not consuming animals or exposing animals to suffering) relating back to the idea all living things are connected. I recall as a child being deeply impressed with this concept and it was one reason I myself became a vegetarian at a very young age. To many in the West, vegetarianism is considered the purview of the privileged, and I now understand that, because if you live a very simple life, it’s often very hard to be vegetarian and consume enough calories. To an extent, being vegetarian is abstinence. Many people with eating disorders become vegetarian or vegan as a form of orthorexia. Many middle-class kids have the ‘fad’ of vegetarianism. But the core behind Gandhi’s form vegetarianism or veganism is more in line with Hindu/Buddhist perspectives of respecting living things and causing no suffering.

The hardest principle of Gandhism I have encountered is faith. For some, this is the easiest as they already possess faith, as Gandhi did. He said: “I must confess that the observance of the law of continence is impossible without a living faith in God, which is living Truth. It is the fashion nowadays to dismiss God altogether and insist on the possibility of reaching the highest kind of life without the necessity of a living faith in a living God. I must confess my inability to drive the truth of the law home to those who have no faith in and no need for a Power infinitely higher than themselves. My own experience has led me to the knowledge that fullest life is impossible without an immovable belief in a living law in obedience to which the whole universe moves.” But unlike the shaming faith separating gender and men and women, Gandhi didn’t impose those divisions: “It is not woman whose touch defiles man, but he is often himself too impure to touch her ……” As a woman who disliked the inferior status given women in most mainstream religions, I found Gandhi’s perspective on this, refreshing and egalitarian. I cannot speak on faith as I do not possess it adequately, but I can see its place in Gandhi’s principles and understand it didn’t come to him all at once, but through the experience in part of the other values he lived with. They built into on one another and are interconnected.

Gandhi’s belief included celibacy. “Brahmacharya … means control in thought, word and action, of all the senses at all times and in all places.” The conclusion in some ways to the fulfilment of all the other principles. Those who find ways to condemn Gandhi, point to the potential for scandal by Gandhi’s relationship with Sarla Devi Chaudharani, daughter of Rabindranath Tagore’s elder sister owing to materials where Gandhi called Sarla Devi his ‘spiritual wife’. Yet in Gandhi’s letters to his friends, Gandhi explained that he called Sarla Devi his ‘spiritual wife’ because theirs’ was a ‘wedding based on knowledge.’ Why this matters, is Brahmacharya is related to celibacy and people often question whether any man is capable of celibacy or whether it was just the outward appearance of.

Personally, I’m not sure it’s as important as others feel it is, to discern whether Gandhi remained celibate, because I do not place importance on celibacy, but I understand if you are literally reading Gandhi, you would hope he did what he said he did. I wonder why this matters so much and why sex with a woman (or man) would be such an issue for those who love Gandhi (or for that matter Jesus, because many thought, he had a wife and this idea alone, scandalized others). Perhaps when it doesn’t matter if a spiritual leader has sex or not, we’ll really be free of all shame attached to sexual relations. Although for Gandhi it was more about control over impulses that could sway him from his path. Gandhi wrote in a letter on the subject; “I have reached a definition of a spiritual marriage. It is the partnership between two people of the opposite sex where the physical is wholly absent. It is therefore possible between brother and sister, father and daughter. It is possible only between two brahmacharis in thought, word and deed.”

I understand for him, perhaps passion was an inflammation of sense and morality, and this would distract him. Gandhi was thought to have developed his perspectives on carnal passions by concluding a person cannot selflessly serve humanity without accepting poverty and chastity. This seems an enduring theme among many holy men and I’m not one to dispute it, although I think it’s different for a woman. When Gandhi said: “physical union for the sake of carnal satisfaction is reversion to animality,” he may have set himself up to be perceived as unrealistically idealist and unrealistically puritanical.

On the other hand, like anything, we have to take the influences of the time-period into account; what Gandhi was responding to, what he witnessed, what he saw occur, how those played into his striving for inner-strength. I see it like trying to translate what a great painter meant by their painting, hundreds of years later. Ultimately, we do, but that painter if alive today, may say; ‘oh no you got it all wrong.’ So, when people point to the strange things Gandhi did in his Brahmacharya experiments, they could be very right, or it could be one piece of a much larger puzzle. We are all twisted by our life experiences, but we expect Gandhi to be free of this, even as he said he wasn’t. Perhaps the shame of not being with his father during his last moments as he went to his bedroom to have sex with his wife, was among some of the reasons he embraced Brahmacharya, Gandhi was after-all, human.

Trying to understand the motives of someone born in another era involves taking into account their worldview as influenced by that era. Gandhi was from a middle-class family, and we know those born into higher classes are often received differently to those from other classes. This isn’t right, but it’s the way the world has operated and blaming the person born into that family is blaming the wrong person. It is the system that perpetuates this, just as now, most ‘notable’ people come from some degree of privilege than obscurity (with significant exceptions). Gandhi was a product of that privilege but that’s not quite the same as being privileged in thought. Likewise, it’s easy to say, he got married at 13 and had 4 kids, so it was relatively easy to become celibate, but without experiencing that personally, that’s an assumption based on reaction, not fact.

I can understand the unease of revisiting historically important figures, the desire to applaud them but also the need to criticize their failings. I think if Gandhi were alive today, he would say ‘have at it’ and be open to criticism, although possibly he would find today’s world untenable, for who really knows how a historical figure would greet the future? We become the future by evolving. Only 20 years ago, the idea of gay-marriage would be abhorrent to most, so much transforms with acceptance and shifting of ideas. Some of that actually comes from thinkers like Gandhi who perhaps paved the way in some form, for the future, even if that future is quick to criticize him. But just as we must respect our grandparents view things differently from us, often through no fault or hate on their part but their upbringing, we cannot always realistically expect people, however smart, to transform on par with our own insights; that’s just not realistic or how we work as humans.

Either way, whether you are successful in incorporating the principles of Gandhi-ism in your life, or not, value lies in taking a leaf out of some of his philosophies. I don’t agree with everything I have read of Gandhi’s beliefs, but he was the first one to say, we contradict ourselves, as we grow, and nothing we do is set in stone. He was continually questioning and evolving, and that to me seems far more realistic than to be a static deity demanding fealty without question.

I remember buying my Goddaughter the kids book; The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe and worrying that her generation may not find it as bewitching as mine did. Some things don’t age well. Others endure. But on average, there are always parts that last the test of time. Instead of being precious about Gandhi, we should be open to questioning his perspectives without rancor, because he would have wanted us to. At the same time, dismissing him because he held some views that at the time were considered normal but are now unfashionable, is to dismiss the value he brought to the table when we discuss faith and philosophy. If we demand perfection, we’ll not find anyone to be inspired by, at the same time it is not wrong to want to redefine norms as we evolve as a society, just the way Gandhi hoped we would.

Candice Louisa Daquin is a Psychotherapist and Editor, having worked in Europe, Canada and the USA. Daquins own work is also published widely, she has written five books of poetry, the last published by Finishing Line Press called Pinch the Lock. Her website is www thefeatheredsleep.com

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Categories
Musings

Core Values

A discussion by Candice Louisa Daquin based on reading Candace Owens’ book Blackout: How Black America Can Make Its Second Escape from the Democrat Plantation

According to the author, Candace Owens:

Hilaría Baldwin is NOT Spanish.
Rachel Dolezal will NEVER be black.
A biological man is NOT a woman.
A biological female will never be a man.

These people are just ‘playing pretend’ and as such, it’s not real. Obviously, her rhetoric has caused a mixed response. Many would agree with the first two examples, and be offended by the last two. Yet in some ways, the same argument is being used. Let’s pick this apart some.

Candace Owens in her book Blackout: How Black America Can Make Its Second Escape from the Democrat Plantation makes some points that really question what we assume. She’s not politically correct and maybe that’s not such a bad thing in some regards, although how far we can take this, is still up for debate.

When white people (identified as people with white skin) appropriate ‘white guilt’ they can be argued to be patronizing the experiences of the non-white on behalf of whom they experience guilt. It is worth pointing out, few of us come from one racial lineage, few, aside ironically the Nazis, have ever put a ‘number’ on the quota of DNA we need to possess to ‘belong’ to a single group (Native Americans and Jews define based on blood quota but they also accept people into their groups who do not possess this specific blood quota, through marriage and religious conversion). As much as we may want to quantify ‘belonging’ using race, it’s immediately challenging when we get clear exceptions to the stereotype of what we ‘perceive’ as solid racial identifiers, and that’s happening more and more as we become more homogenized and universal.

It used to be we argued a man’s propensity for violence, criminality, lunacy, based on his physiognomy and that perspective of ‘telling what someone is by how they look’ hasn’t left us as much as it should have. Whilst we may have stopped assuming men with big noses are Jewish, we continue to judge when we say someone is black because their skin is not white, or white, because their skin is not black. It leaves too many in-betweens out.

It can be argued that the guilt associated with past historic colonialism or racism is owning one’s ancestors’ ‘mistakes’ or, contextualizing based on the past culture and the time-period by stating that such practices are not longer socially acceptable and were never acceptable morally. Surely that is a very good thing?

The reverse argument looks unapologetically at things in their time period and context only. If a former President used a racist word, it may have been the usage in a racist society, and we are not in that context any longer. Nonetheless racism is racism. So, was it the President who was racist? Was the use of the word racist? Or was it par for the course and if so, is that acceptable in historical context? Should we eradicate any mention of that President, should we give reparation? What should we do to ensure we’re inclusive today about something we feel is intolerable?

For example, when we tear down ‘heroes’ of the past for being racist, we demolish role models who have been beloved for centuries. This causes very strong feelings from both sides. Winston Churchill was apparently quite the racist, but he also saved a continent in WW2, do we eliminate his statue and eliminate him or do we forgive him (and can we ever condone forgiveness for an atrocity, and what constitutes an atrocity versus ignorance) for his racism in context or do we put it in its social milieu? Those are all questions that have many aspects to them.

Take a President who has mixed-race children in a consensual relationship with a black woman, and who loves all his children, but still uses the ‘N-Word’ and has slaves? What about the black men who had black slaves? What of the child who is of mixed-race but passes as white? How about the woman who chooses to be with the President even though she’s at a disadvantage? Where do we quantify the level of disadvantage to understand the inequity and thus, discover the guilty party and misjustice committed? Why would we use this calculation for some scenarios but not others? Why do we pick and choose our outrages?

Imagine you are a woman who was raped, can you understand people like Steven Spielberg saying that Roman Polanski should be ‘forgiven’ because he’s paid his dues (by being exiled, which was really him on the run for decades, in relative luxury) for his child-abuse and other sexual assault charges (which he absconded to Europe from, instead of facing justice). Do you condemn Spielberg et al as being ‘male heterodoxy’ or patriarchy gone wild? Same with Woody Allen. Same with Bukowski. We pick and choose our villains. We could even argue, if we changed the colour of the villain would our response be different and if so, why?

The argument in the artworld, given how many ‘creatives’ commit atrocious acts, has always been ‘try to separate the artist from the act’ but when do you stop doing that? If you found out Woody Allen called black people the “N Word’ would you say that’s enough I can’t support him? What if he called gays, “fags and degenerates” — would that be enough? When David Bowie died and it came out, he wasn’t the paragon of virtue, people said; Oh, but he was so talented, he is my hero, I can’t give him up. When Michael Jackson was revealed to be a paedophile, people said; But he had a hard childhood it wasn’t his fault. When we excuse one and not the other, what message are we sending? Same with Bill Cosby and those ‘father’s we adored on TV growing up.

When Larry King died, the dialogue focused on his positive impact in society and little was said about the accusations of sexual misconduct that caused him to step down from his late-night show. Is that because ‘now is not the time to mention those things?’ When did that rule get applied? What if we changed the gender, would men be as forgiving of not mentioning it? Look at the discrepancies given in sentencing between those with money and influence versus those without and men versus women. Had Aileen Wuornos more money, maybe she wouldn’t have got the death penalty? How much of why she was punished that harshly was to do with not understanding the body politic and the survivor? Just as we dismiss those without celebrity attorneys. We know ‘justice’ isn’t blind or fair, but what about us? Do we analyze and judge fairly?

Is it right of us as a society and as an individual to ever pick and choose ‘what is enough’ and if we do, what are we saying about those things we decide are ‘not’ enough? In other words, if we argue that we like Bukowski because we divorce who he was in his personal life from his life as an incredibly talented writer, then we’re saying those acts were ‘not enough’ but if we find out he used the “N Word” how many of us would then agree it ‘was enough’ to condemn him and divorce him from his artistic-license?

In other words, is it ever acceptable to pick and choose without diminishing what we ‘choose’ not to condemn a person for?

I suspect, if any large name white artist of any kind were to go around saying the “N Word” and “fags and degenerates” many people would stop supporting them. But if that same artist were to go around saying “I’m anti-Muslim” or “I’m anti-Jewish” or we found out they were implicated in a #metoo outcry, we might say, “I’m going to separate the artist from the act.”

If the same artist were black, they would be socially permitted to use the “N-Word” because it’s acceptable in society to reappropriate a racial word and use it on your own race. We have some strange tolerances and rules as a society don’t, we? The same is true with friendships. How many people do we know say things like: “If you support Trump unfriend me now”, whereas if someone supported ‘Pro-Life’ even all their friends were ‘Pro-Choice’ they may not cut them off. Why do we have a notion of what is a breaking-point and what is not? Is it entirely our own breaking-point or deeply influenced by cultural perceptions of the moment?

Only fifteen years ago, people didn’t defend or talk of LGBTQX anywhere like they do now. Nobody thinks fifteen years is a long time. Social media makes ‘trends’ come and go; we change without realizing how much we are changing. What we applaud, stand for, condemn, all shift according to the whim of a mass which is greater than our singular sum. Fifteen years ago, when I told friends it ‘hurt’ me to see signs saying ‘marriage equals a man and a woman’ all over my town, they nodded and said nothing. Now it would be a march and a hash-tag. Then there’s the nuance behind the nuance, like ‘pretend acceptance’ but you’re still not invited over to their house, so it’s superficial at best. That’s rampant. Do we talk about that kind of pretense too?

Some of this is about what is perceived and what is the breaking point, or the socially perceived intolerance. Ask yourself, are you doing this because of inflamed momentum or are you being hypocritical? In theory, if you don’t have the same responses to all the things you believe are wrong, should you have any at all? Likewise, there are critical themes to most people’s personal sense of morality, that they rarely shift from. This explains why a Latino could vote for a politician who is blatantly being racist toward Latinos. They are not voting because of that; they are voting because that politician represents a party who is Pro-Life and Pro-guns and maybe that’s what their core values are.

It’s never as simple as we like to think it is. In an ideal world we’d all have a shared moral compass but we really don’t. For some, the freedom to bear arms far outweighs climate change, or women’s rights or immigrants’ rights, and we may condemn them for that, but we should consider for a moment if we are just as rigid. We may defend a Pro-Choice candidate who is against Israel even as we are Jewish. It’s never about one thing. It’s often not about what you think it is.

One might argue, this is black and white thinking and it is. But that’s where we get into trouble, by thinking dogmatically about complicated things. It’s simply not that simple and that’s part of Owens’ over-arching point in her book Blackout: How Black America Can Make Its Second Escape from the Democrat Plantation.

Some non-black people will be offended or angry that they are not being ‘included’ in the right to be outraged about racism. After all weren’t most of the protesters in Portland, Oregon white? And didn’t they protest for #BLM for weeks? Why doesn’t that count?

It does count. But every time a non-black person stands up for a black person, Owen says, it discounts the black person’s response by appropriation. And this well meaning ‘white guilt’ overlays the natural response of black people to oppression and prejudice and racism. It’s just another way of keeping (the black person) on the plantation, according to Owen.

Owen is brave to write this, because it’s poking the bear. Another example would be the women’s movement in the 60/70s and how ultimately the black women’s movement divorced from the white women’s movement for that exact reason. Appropriation. But is Owens’ right about all of it? Some cases are more easily dissected than others. Let’s look at her examples:

Hilaría Baldwin is NOT Spanish. Rachel Dolezal will NEVER be black. Those are accurate. Rachel Dolezal has gone on to ‘identify’ as Black, the argument being, whilst she knows she is not biologically black she identifies as black. Owen’s points out, whilst this may be the case, she cannot know what it is like to be prejudiced against for the color of her skin because she was born white and remains biologically white.

The argument is similarly applied to Baldwin. But there’s another side to this. Many of us know black people who don’t look black but are biologically black (take Wentworth Miller from Prison Break). We know people who look black but are not nearly as black as others who don’t, and we know people who are Spanish but don’t speak Spanish or relate to it. It’s simply not as easy as that … or is it?

Dolezal was born white, she inherited ‘white privilege’ and now identifies as black and has black biological kids. She may have had no more white privilege than some black women who do not look black and ‘pass’ as white just as she tried to ‘pass’ as black. The difference being, Dolezal was NOT black. Where do we draw the line? Are we angry at what she did more than the reality of her experience? Are we punishing her or really trying to define something that isn’t always as simple as it seems?

Just as much as there is a black and white set-in stone, there is not. Twins can be born one black and one white, does the white one says ‘I am white’ and the black one says ‘I am black’ and that’s all there is to it? They can say mixed-race but what do people see? Do we need disclaimers? Or are things based on snap-judgement of perception. I would say the later, and as such, we are all prejudiced because black people make snap judgements about black and white faces as much as white people do.

The difference here is the power in society and what you can do with it. Historically white oppression meant if a white person WAS prejudiced because of a person’s skin colour they would be racist; whereas if a black person was prejudiced because of a person’s skin colour, it would be seen as a response to the racism inherent in society.

But how do we know this?

Within all cultures there have been casteism and racism and prejudice among similar groups, based on skin colour and other aspects. If a black person says to a darker skinned black person, they are inferior, they are technically not being racist, they are thought to be appropriating racial bigotry. But isn’t that patronizing and assumptive?

In India because they were a colonial country, they inherited casteism that came with prizing fair skin over dark, and it is argued, the white man bequeathed this. But many Indians have since said, this predated the white man, just as slavery predated the white man in Africa. Whilst nobody is taking away the damage and harm done BY the white man, it’s never as cut and dry as it seems.

What we can use as an ultimate determinant is our biological status. I am biologically mixed-race; nobody can change that. But what of a biological gender?

Owen’s says; A biological man is NOT a woman. And a biological female will never be a man. So, all the arguments earlier, are moot. If your biology is NOT black you are not black. If your biology is not Spanish heritage you are NOT biologically Spanish, even if you identify as such, bad luck. How does this work when looking at transgender folk?

The very nature of being transgender is you are biologically born as one gender and you may wish to physically alter that gender, but you ‘identify’ as either no gender (androgynous) or another gender than your biological one. In recent years, identification has soared in terms of youth especially, identifying as non-binary or not wishing to label themselves with a gender. But ‘trans’ is different to someone who wishes not to identify as a gender, it also means they may wish to physically change their inherent biological gender.

If someone born female undergoes gender reassignment surgery, they are F2M. If they identify as male and do not undergo gender reassignment surgery, they will still call themselves male even if they continue to have the biology of a woman, because they ‘identify’ as male. Thus, it is ‘identity’ that is the key here, NOT the absolutism of biology which no matter what you do, you cannot completely alter.

Owens’ argues that using this logic, a woman who ‘identifies’ as black cannot be black because identity doesn’t trump biology. And therefore, transgenders are not what they ‘identify as,’ they continue to belong to the gender of their birth. She uses this as partial argument for why she does not believe transgender should be permitted into the military in the USA.

It’s quite a bold argument and she’s received a huge amount of backlash from it, although the LGBTQX community has been quieter than had Owens’ herself not been black because of course, if you are calling a black person out for calling you out, that’s another hornet’s nest. The cardinal rule book has been thrown out because it really depends whom you are accusing of what and when. One person will be forgiven if they apologise, because we like them, the next person will be vilified because we do not like them so much. Our double standards dictate our sense of truth as much as truth does.

Ultimately a liberal might say: Where is the HARM in identifying as anything as long as it doesn’t hurt someone? But Liberals were especially mortified at the two cases of women identifying as a different race/culture, because they thought it was offensive. Again, we have a group of people ‘defending’ another group by being offended on their behalf. Ironically most people of colour laughed it off and thought it was madness. Some pointed to the unfairness of Dolezal getting a job on the basis of being considered black as she was seen to benefit from a falsity. Some thought it smacked of white appropriation at its worst.

People who have an issue with trans, typically feel they are pretending to be another gender and they take issue with that because they don’t want them in the ‘wrong toilet’ or ‘peeing next to my son’ – the thought there being: there’s something dangerous or wrong or threatening.

Let’s look at that. Are trans more likely to commit a crime? No. Are they more likely to be paedophiles? No. So the ‘fear’ is more the fear of the unknown, something they do not understand. Can the same be said of white people appropriating the black culture, or a non-Spanish person pretending to be Spanish? Is it more a case of cultural/racial disrespect? In which case what is disrespectful about a man identifying as a woman or vice versa? Where is the harm?

It is about harm? A biological man can rape a biological woman. Harm and its myriad definitions, is as much about a deep-rooted sense of fear. What Roman Polanski did to kids was ‘harm’ but some say ‘let sleeping dogs lie, he’s paid for it.’ Does harm have an expiry date or a forgiveness quota? One thing I notice is, when it comes to women being sexually assaulted, it’s relatively diminished by society if you look at how many convictions occur. When it comes to famous people committing crimes, more people defend them. When it comes to talented people committing crimes, more people say, ‘separate the artist from the act’.

If brick layer Barry down the road, slept with a 12-year-old I’m not sure people would be saying ‘separate the art from the act’. So, are we giving talented people we admire, an out?

When we talk of harm, we can consider Economist Dierdre McClusky, who M2F claims she can understand the oppression of women now that she is one. Some Feminists argue a M2F is the ultimate appropriation of gender and men dictating the female. Just as it can be argued a man cannot truly understand a woman’s experience any more than a non-black can be black. Conversely, Theorist Kamla Bhasin believes: “Feminism is not biological. Feminism is an ideology.” Can being black be an ideology? No. So why can being female be an ideology?  Can you experience by proxy or is it the lack of ‘born into it’ experience that denies true understanding rather than chosen experience? What of those within a group who don’t understand their own racial or gendered experience?

Likewise, are we too quick to condemn say, someone we do not understand, just because it makes us feel uncomfortable? How much is influenced by those factors we don’t even consider, but colour our sense of how far we go on any given subject? How much is natural bias versus appropriated outrage, versus subject du jour? Owens’ points out that white protests were as much about whites as about blacks and as such, they defeated the purpose and were patronizing and insulting to blacks. She believes blacks need to do their own things, and not get re-appropriated by white groups seeking to ‘defend’ them. Is there any merit to that?

When I grew up it was de riguer to say things like: “Your mum’s a lezzie”. And no way was I going to come out during those days and admit to being queer. Nowadays we can come out to things far more easily, and some argue, it’s a slippery slope, what’s next? Where will it end?

As much as you want tolerance and acceptance and an end to prejudice, racism, bigotry, you are also opening a flood gate. Some think, next it will be polyamory, just as it went from marriage to divorce — living together unmarried — gays living together — gays marrying/adopting — more than two people living together in a sexual relationship. If we apply the ‘if it’s not hurting anyone’ rule, then so what? But what about possible next steps? Already organisations of paedophiles, including under-age children, have been lobbying for recognition.

Paedophiles believe, if it is consensual then there is no harm, and their kind of love should be accepted. BDSM groups are doing the same. Whilst in theory we should be able to deal with this by applying the ‘do no harm’ rule, it begins to get more cloudy, as more complicated elements are under consideration. After all, human beings are perverse folk at best.

One might argue, there is a black and white. A wrong and right. A good and bad. A woman and a man. And there is a comfort in reverting back to those old tropes because they’re immutable. Until they’re not. And what we say in polite company as we all know, is quite different to what we say behind closed doors. How often do my LGBTQX friendly neighbors call me ‘the next-door lezzie’ even now? What would they say if I had a non-binary child? How often do my friends roll their eyes at ‘another Jewish post’ and how many times do black people get sick of white people talking about black issues?

On the other hand, if we do nothing and are true armchair liberals/conservatives, then ‘nothing comes from nothing.’ How do we give people the respect they deserve in how they identify, as we continually evolve a sense of what is permanent, biological, social, emotional, psychological? Where does that end? When an eight-year-old decides they are trans and wants an operation at thirteen, do the parents respect their right? Or worry about if they’ll change their mind in adulthood? How can you accomplish both? None of these subjects are easy. Many believe they are overly pathologized, but there remains some value in seeking therapy if nothing else, to work through the myriad considerations of any life-altering change.

Questioning these things leaves most of us really perplexed and possibly frustrated. Not questioning them is worse. We should not condemn those who have the courage to question them, even if we disagree. We have often learnt more from contention than from agreement. Whilst I may not agree with Owens’ in many ways, I appreciate her willingness to engage.

Candice Louisa Daquin is a Sephardi immigrant from France who lives in the American Southwest. Formerly in publishing, Daquin is now a Psychotherapist and Editor, having worked in Europe, Canada and the USA. Daquins own work is also published widely, she has written five books of poetry, the last published by Finishing Line Press called Pinch the Lock. Her website is www thefeatheredsleep.com

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are solely that of the writer.

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